Category: UK Travel

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

It’s All in the Details

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been a little fascinated with dollhouses. There is something magical about seeing a slice of everyday life shrunk down into miniature. And the more details there are, the more magical it becomes. Here are five amazing dollhouses from around the world that are on my bucket list to see, plus one I’ve already seen.

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The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

First, a Confession:

I have waited over three months to write a post about The Making of Harry Potter. I hoped that giving it some time would subdue my zealous enthusiasm and help me not come across as a total geek.

Alas, it did not.

I took almost 200 photos there, and when I looked through them to decide which ones I would include in this post, I could only narrow it down to thirty. I will try my hardest to cut out more as I am writing. But it will be painful.

Suffice it to say that if you have ever watched a Harry Potter movie, there is only one thing that should be at the top of your list for London attractions: The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brother Studios in Leavesden.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

According to the web site (link at the end), the tour is supposed to take about three hours. However, I strongly recommend allowing almost an entire day for it. Three hours is probably the bare minimum time, and does not include transportation to/from the studio tour. (Details on transportation are also at the end of this post.)

When you enter The Making of Harry Potter building, you are in a large lobby area, with giant photos of the cast members staring down at you. Alan Rickman’s Snape is there. It made me a little melancholy to see him as I’ve been a fan even of his for decades. He really knew how to create memorable characters! A few props are there as well, including the flying Ford Anglia that Ron and Harry borrowed in The Chamber of Secrets. From the lobby you proceed to the queuing area and enter a maze of barrier straps, winding back and forth. While there, you get to see the famous cupboard under the stairs from Number 4, Privet Drive.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour Cupboard Under the Stairs

Once you reach the front of the line, you are ushered into a large, mostly dark and very empty room, where you watch a video presentation. It really isn’t very long but you feel like it is because you just want to get to Hogwarts, already! After the video, you move into a great stone room that looks like the outside of a castle. Pause for dramatic effect, then the doors open and you are ushered into…

Great Hall Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

…the Great Hall at Hogwarts!

The long tables are set and they seem to stretch on forever. Mannequins behind the tables wear the characters’ costumes. And of course, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is at the head of the hall, flanked by Professors McGonagal and Snape.

Between the tables and the platform on which the professors would stand is, of course, the Sorting Hat, ready to announce the Hogwarts house for every new student.

Sorting Hat Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

At this point on The Making of Harry Potter tour, I’m enjoying myself and pretty wowed by everything that I’m seeing, but starting to have a bit of anxiety creep up on me because it’s a little too structured. I don’t like being led about like a dog on a leash – I want to explore and set my own pace. Luckily, it turned out that I had no need to feel even the slightest bit anxious. Our guide opened a second set of doors from the Great Hall and we walked out into the remainder of our studio tour, where we were free to explore as much or as little as we wanted to.

At that point, I went from a dog on a leash to a rat on crack – pinging from exhibit to exhibit and rushing around in circles because I wanted to see everything all at once. I didn’t have time to read the signs, darn it!  I had stuff to see!

Eventually I found a happy medium and was able to calm down. Good thing, too, because there are details that you don’t want to miss in this tour.

Most of the things that I zinged past so quickly were technical exhibits – how they actually made certain items in the film work. Floating candles in the great hall, for instance. (To be honest, I missed a lot of this. I wish I had taken the time to pay more attention, because I’m sure it was really interesting.) Once I had started to breathe again, I found the exhibit on wardrobe distressing pretty fascinating. You’d be surprised how much work goes into making a smudge of dirt appear on an actor’s jacket!

There was a beautiful display from the Yule Ball scene in Goblet of Fire:

Yule Ball Costumes Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
Harry and Cho Chang’s outfits in front; Hermione’s and Viktor Krum’s in back.

Moving on, we made it to the Gryffindor rooms. First the common room:

Gryffindor Common Room Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and then the boys’ dormitory. Here’s Ron’s bunk:

Gryffindor Boys Dorm Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were so many items that had great significance in the plot of the seven Harry Potter books and movies, and seeing each one was a thrill.

Film Props Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
TOP:  The Mirror of Erised and Godric Gryffindor’s Sword.
BOTTOM: Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, Dumbledore’s Pensieve, and the Tri-Wizard Cup

(See what I did there?  Five photos in one!  Pretty clever, eh?)

We got to see lots of the settings from the movies, which felt so real, I wanted to sit and stay for a while. Here is Dumbledore’s office, which had many items from the books/movies – the pensieve, the sword of Godric Gryffindor, the paintings of former headmasters, and so many books! (Fun Fact:  It turns out the books lining the shelves of our favorite Headmaster’s office are telephone directories that were altered to look like antique volumes!)

Dumbledore Office Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

And there was Snape’s Potions classroom. Melancholia struck again when I saw the figure representing the late, great, Alan Rickman.

Snape Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were plenty great details in the potions classroom. First, the apparatus used to make Felix Felicis:

Felix Felicis Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and a few copies of Advanced Potion Making here and there.

Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

They also had self-stirring cauldrons, but that doesn’t translate well into a still photograph.

One set that gave me absolute joy was The Burrow, home to the poor-in-money-but-rich-in-love Weasley family.

The Burrow Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
You can’t tell in the photo, but the knife in the foreground was chopping the carrot by itself.

At The Burrow, Molly’s knitting needles were clicking and clacking away whilst knitting a blanket, and there was the famous clock that showed which family members were home and which were in mortal peril.

Weasley Home Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There are so many more exhibits I could write about and show you, but I have to draw a line somewhere. There were Professor Umbrage’s proclamations, floo powder sets, the Ministry of Magic statue, Tom Riddle’s grave, Hagrid’s Hut, the Leaky Cauldron, the Chamber of Secrets door, Mad-Eye Moody’s trunk, Lupin’s trunk, the Clock from Azkaban, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, and so much more!

Oh, okay, one more photo before I move on. Remember the Deatheaters meeting at Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows Part 1?

Malfoy Manor Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Outward and Onward

When you finally tear yourself away from the exhibits and head out, you find yourself at a food court with a couple of different options for meals and snacks. My daughter and I could not resist the soft-serve butterbeer ice cream, which was so creamy and sweet!

Butterbeer Ice Cream Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

After leaving the food court area, you head outside and see some of the exterior sets. For instance, the Dursley residence, AKA number 4, Privet Drive.

4 Privet Drive Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Where Technology & Magic Meet

From there, you head into the second leg of the tour, bringing you back to the technical aspects of how the movie was made. Learning how they filmed Hagrid was especially interesting. Apparently not all of the scenes with Hagrid are actually Robbie Coltrane. They had an insanely realistic looking animatronic head that they used as his double:

Hagrid Head Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

This portion of the tour also included Dobby, the Gringott’s goblin, Buckbeak, Aragog, Fawkes, and more.

The grand finale to the tour is just amazing. I won’t tell you what it is, but suffice it to say that it is – no pun intended – absolutely magical.

As thrilling as it is to read about these things and these places in a book, and to see them on the big screen, it is even more so to stand in the midst of it all and feel like you’re actually there. If you’ve ever read a Harry Potter book or seen a movie, The Making of Harry Potter deserves a top spot on your bucket list.

The Warner Brothers Studio Tour’s address is Studio Tour Drive in Leavesden, WD25 7LR. Telephone 0345 084 0900. To get there, take a train from London to Watford Junction. Outside the Watford Junction station, you can get a shuttle bus that runs to the studio. The studio has hours that vary from day to day; consult the schedule when planning your visit. 

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

On our recent trip to England, I had a list of lesser attractions for us to see. They weren’t big enough to drive out of our way for, but they were interesting or scenic enough to add into our itinerary if we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time and happened to be in the area.

Flamborough Head was one such place.  I had seen pictures of white cliffs and a big lighthouse and thought, “Well, that will be a nice place to take a few pictures.”  I had no idea there was so much history attached to it.  As a result, I was pretty pleased that we had gone to check it out.

flamborough head old lighthouse chalk tower

We passed this chalk tower as we approached the Flamborough Head lighthouse.  Sir John Clayton built the tower in 1669 with the permission of King Charles II. It stands over 78 feet tall and would have had a coal or brushwood fire burning at the top. However, most historians agree that it was never actually lit. Perhaps the voluntary dues from passing sailors were insufficient to provide funding for it. The chalk tower is most likely the oldest surviving lighthouse in England.

When we arrived at the current lighthouse, Hubs took a moment to read the signs, and we got a little insight into the historical significance of the site:

In the middle of the American Revolution, on September 23, 1779, the Battle of Flamborough Head took place. The battle was a conflict between an American Navy squadron led by none other than John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard, and two British escort vessels, the HMS Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, which were protecting a large merchant convoy.

Battle of Flamborough Head

Jones’ initiated the conflict by engaging the Serapis in a violent gun battle. It seemed that a British victory would be inevitable because the Serapis was more heavily armed.

At one point in the battle, John Paul Jones’ ship collided with the Serapis, rendering both ships temporarily immobile. The British captain, a man by the name of Pearson, taunted Jones by asking if his ship had struck.  (This was a play on the word strike, which is also the term for lowering a ship’s flag as a sign of surrender – “striking the colors.”)

John Paul Jones’ response?  The famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

In the end, Jones claimed the victory, although he lost his ship in the process. Countless expeditions have looked for the wreckage of the Bonhomme Richard but none have met with success to date.

Samuel Wyatt, a noted architect, designed the current lighthouse at Flamborough Head.  Built in 1806, it held an oil lamp, which rotated by means of a clockwork motor.  The light was reportedly visible for 20 miles.  In 1925 authorities raised the lighthouse to its current height of 85 feet, which puts it 250 feet above the waves.

Flamborough Head Lighthouse

In addition to the impressive lighthouse, the view there was really beautiful.  Water lapped at the edges of the white cliffs and the North Sea stretched out in front of us as far as we could see.  It was the kind of place that you want to just stand and take it all in. So if you’re in the area and have a half hour or so to spare, stop by to soak up the history and the salt air.

Flamborough Head Cliffs

You can reach the Flamborough Head Lighthouse by way of Lighthouse Road (B1259) in Flamborough, Yorkshire, postcode YO15 1AR.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

Peru – What They Wear

When I was preparing for my trip to Peru, I read that they have some pretty unusual New Year’s Eve traditions.  For starters, they wear yellow underwear (yellow is the color of good luck).  Peruvians wear these yellow undergarments inside out until midnight, then changed to the right way once the new year begins.  Other Latin American countries have similar traditions focused on wearing new, brightly colored underwear.

New Year's Eve Lucky Underwear Tradition in Peru
Suerte is the Spanish word for luck.

Other Peruvian New Year’s Eve traditions (and believe me, there are plenty!) include eating 12 grapes under the table, running around the block with an empty suitcase (to assure good luck in traveling), placing a coin in each shoe (to bring wealth), throwing a coin over your shoulder to get rid of the previous year’s poverty, and many more.  There are literally dozens of unusual traditions/superstitions for this holiday in Peru, which got me wondering what people do in other countries to celebrate.

The Philippines – What They Eat

In the Philippines, bringing in the new year is a noisy affair. In addition to a celebration with fireworks, people in the Philippines thump pots or pans repeatedly and blow car horns in order to drive away any evil spirits. The goal is to make as much noise as possible. But that’s not the only tradition. There is also “Media Noche,” a night of feasting and drinking with family members on New Year’s Eve.  The feast contains no chicken or fish because those foods symbolize famine.  Twelve round fruits (usually serving as the table’s centerpiece) are eaten at this feast.  Other dishes include sticky rice to strengthen the family bond and pancit (long noodles) to bring good health and long life.

Philippine New Year's Eve feast traditional celebration
A typical media noche feast

Sweden – What They Recite

Swedes view the beginning of a new year as a magical time, when people try to foresee the future. One way of telling your future was to pour molten lead in water and then interpret the shapes that were produced. Another was to toss shoes. If your shoe landed with the toe pointing towards the door, it meant you would move away or even die during the year.  Another tradition states that one should not to carry anything out of the house, as this signifies discarding happiness for the rest of the year.

Just before midnight, Swedes  at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm recite the following poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Turkey – What They Buy

Turkey holds a special lottery on New Year’s Eve, so buying lottery tickets is an annual tradition for many. In addition, many people will sprinkle salt on the doorstep at midnight to bring peace and abundance to their home or business.

Denmark – What They Watch

In Denmark, New Year’s Eve festivities are kicked off by a short speech from the queen – a tradition that has been in place since 1880.  Once Her Majesty has concluded her remarks, a meal with an entree of boiled cod is served.  For desert, there is a towering stack of marzipan rings known as kransekage.

After the meal, Danes may watch an 18-minute film called “Dinner for One.” The sketch presents the 90th birthday of upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a celebration dinner every year for her friends Mr Pomeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider. The problem is that Miss Sophie has outlived all of her friends, so her equally aged butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn.

The crucial exchange during every course is:

James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

By the end of the dinner, James is severely inebriated, having consumed 16 glasses of wine. Miss Sophie, who has herself had four rounds of wine, still appears sober; she tells the very drunk James that she wishes to retire to bed. Hand in hand, they head to the staircase and recite the closing lines of dialogue:

James: By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie (delightedly): The same procedure as every year, James!
James (slyly): Well, I’ll do my very best!
dinner-for-one denmark New Year's Eve traditional program
A scene from “Dinner for One”

Japan – What They Hang Up

In Japan, there is no shortage of New Year’s traditions.  As the calendar turns from one year to the next, they laugh in an effort to ward off evil spirits.  Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times to keep away evil forces.  The traditional Japanese New Year dinner menu features boiled seaweed, mashed sweet potato with chestnut, fish cakes, sweetened black soybeans, and simmered burdock root. Shimenawa are lengths of rice straw rope normally used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion. At New Year’s these shimenawa are hung at the entrances of Japanese homes.  They ward off evil spirits and indicate the sacred areas where gods descend.

Shimenawa Japan New Year's Eve Tradition Celebration
Shimenawa

Germany – What They Say

You won’t hear anyone in Germany say, “Happy New Year,” but rather “Guten Rutsch”to wish everyone a good slide into the new year.  Likewise, December 31 is not known as New Year’s Eve.  In Germany it is Silvester, the saint’s day for Pope Silvester, who died on that date in 335 AD.  On a superstitious note, having laundry hanging on the clothesline at the start of the new year supposedly brings bad luck.  Like their Danish neighbors, the Germans are also fond of pouring molten lead into cold water and watching Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve.

Panama & Ecuador – What They Burn

In many Latin American countries, such as Panama and Ecuador, effigies of politicians, pop culture figures, and other icons of the year are burned as part of a New Year’s Eve bonfire.  The effigies represent the old year and burning them is meant to drive off evil spirits for a fresh start to the new year.

New Year's Eve effigy bonfire ecuador panama latin america tradition
A bonfire made of effigies.

Belarus – What They Feed the Roosters

In Belarus, the New Year’s Eve traditions seem to focus on marrying off the single ladies. In one, a pile of corn is placed before each woman, and a rooster is set before them. Whichever pile of corn the rooster approaches first reveals who will be the first to marry. In another game, a married woman hides certain items around her house for her unmarried friends to find.  The woman who finds bread will marry a rich man, while the one who finds a ring will marry a handsome man.

These are just a few of the countries with New Year’s Eve traditions, superstitions, and celebrations different from our own. I think it could be interesting to travel for New Year’s.  After all, celebrating the holiday in a different country could inspire you to start new traditions of your own here at home!

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

On our recent trip to the UK, we had a bit of a rail travel nightmare. We were leaving Northern England (Newcastle) to head back to London. The trip was to last about three hours, roughly 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

All went smoothly until we arrived at York, when the operator announced that the train line was closed due to a herd of cattle on the tracks near Peterborough. We were advised to disembark and catch a different train to Manchester, from whence we could take yet another train to London. Since the train to Manchester was essentially carrying two trains’ worth of passengers, many of us rode standing up, packed in the cars like sardines. It was not fun.

Further problems (and delays) ensued when the driver of the Manchester-to-London train fell ill. Long story short, we arrived in London around 5:00, a full four hours later than we planned.

During the Manchester-to-London ride, the operator made an announcement that because there was a significant (i.e., more than 30 minutes) delay, we would be eligible to receive a refund for our rail travel. I honestly didn’t think much about it because, ugh!, paperwork is not something I care to bother with when I’m on vacation. But once we got home, I looked into it.

Delay Repay in the UK

Sure enough, Virgin Trains (the company we booked with) has a “Delay Repay” policy. If your train runs 30-59 minutes late, you could receive a 50% refund. If your delay is 60 minutes or more, you can receive a full refund for your rail travel. And depending on how you booked, you might even get it automatically!

I was skeptical, though, because the train I ended up arriving in London on was a different carrier than the one I had originally booked. In fact, each of the three trains we took to get to London was with a different carrier. I wasn’t sure who to apply for the refund with, so I applied with Virgin Trains East Coast (our originating train in Newcastle) and Virgin Trains (the one that actually got us to London… finally).

Within a week Virgin Trains contacted me to say that they were denying my refund request because of inadequate documentation. Well, that’s it, I figured, no refund for me. Imagine my surprise when nearly two months later I found this in my mail from Virgin Trains East Coast:

img_2639

A refund check for the full amount we paid for that journey! Now, granted, it is going to take a small eternity for it to clear the bank due to currency conversion, but it’s still close to $70 that I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t tried.

And it turns out Virgin is not alone.  Other rail travel operators have generous compensation policies for delayed passengers as well. I was lucky in that the train operator advised us we would be eligible for a delay, but if he had not, I would have had no clue. It pays to be aware of your rights as a passenger. Thus the purpose of this post. 🙂

In addition to Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast, other UK rail companies operating with a Delay Repay policy are

  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Northern
  • Southeastern
  • Southern
  • Thameslink, and
  • TransPennine Express

Elsewhere in Europe

Within the EU, there are refund policies in place for rail travel as well.  If your arrival at your destination is canceled or delayed by an hour or more, you are entitled to the following compensation:

  • full and immediate refund upon cancellation of the journey
  • return journey to your original departure point if the delay prevents you from completing the purpose of the trip
  • transportation to your destination, including alternative means of transportation if the rail line is closed
  • meals and refreshments proportionate to your waiting time
  • accommodations if you must stay overnight as a result of the delay

If you decide to continue your journey as planned or to accept alternative transport to your destination, you may receive compensation of:

  • 25% of the ticket fare, if the train is between 1 and 2 hours late.
  • 50% of the fare, if the train is more than 2 hours late.

And, finally, if your luggage is lost or damaged on a rail journey within the EU, you have a right to compensation, unless it was “inadequately packed, unfit for transport or had a special nature.”

  • Up to € 1300 per piece of registered luggage – if you can prove the value of its contents.
  • € 330 per piece if you can’t prove the value.

Remember, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your rights as a rail travel passenger will prepare you for any scenario!

 

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town
5 – a review of the print shop in the 1900s Town

My favorite aspect of visiting a new place, other than photographing it, is shopping there.  I don’t mean just souvenir shopping.  I think visiting the stores in a new area gives you a special kind of insight into what daily life is like there.  Happily, the folks at Beamish agree with me on this point, so they have set up many opportunities for shopping.

A large section of the 1900s town is occupied by retail establishments.  As you might expect, they are just as authentically detailed as the rest of Beamish. For starters, there is an authentic bakery, where you can purchase Edwardian era treats.  We each got a different cookie/pastry and agreed that they were delicious.  The bakery also had a huge contraption called a “Super Human Kneader” for making bread. It would have been a newfangled piece of equipment back in the day.  Also, the bakery oven was electric – a new practice that was gaining popularity because of the ability to control the temperature.

beamish-1900s-town-bakery

The Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is the town garage.  The motor industry was still in its infancy during the early 1900s, so garages in that period typically combined the skills of a blacksmith, wheelwright, and coachbuilder.  As a result, only one person in 232 owned a car in 1913.

The showroom at the Beamish garage contains well-preserved examples of what would have been new and second hand cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.  I took a picture of this penny farthing for Hubs, since he loves bicycling:

Beamish 1900s town penny farthing bicycle garage

It seems like it wouldn’t be very comfortable, doesn’t it?

Behind the showroom, we found a workshop area filled with vintage automotive items.  My grandfather owned a service station when I was a kid and I grew up seeing a slightly more modern version of this, so I really enjoyed seeing this room.

Beamish 1900s town garage

beamish 1900s town garage

Next to the garage was the local co-op, which was akin to what we might have called a general store back in the day.  It was a store that catered to every household need from cradle to grave, sorted into three departments:  grocery, drapery, and hardware.

The grocery carried many foods in bulk and sold them by weight.  For non-bulk items, color-coded packets helped customers who could not read.  Sugar, for instance, was sold in a blue bag to make the white sugar seem brighter.  Butter came in barrels and was molded into portions using wooden pats.  Fresh foods were displayed on a slab of marble to help them stay cool.  And, of course, many items lined the shelves of the Co-Op.

Beamish 1900s town Co-Op Grocery store

The hardware department sold the household goods for indoor and outdoor use – everything from lighting, heating, cooking utensils, sports equipment, and cleaning supplies. The miners in this time period provided their own tools, and the co-op was where they bought whatever they needed.

beamish-1900s-town-co-op-hardware-store

There was also a sweet shop by the name of Jubilee Confectioners. Visitors can visit the factory in the back of the shop to see period candy-making techniques and machinery.

Beamish 1900s town candy store confectioner

Beamish probably has the best collection of sweet rollers – used to produce candies in a variety of shapes – in the country.  Some well known candies and their shapes include:

  • Pineapple Chunks – cube shaped
  • Black Bullets – bullet-like shape, hence the name
  • Blacks and Rasps – berry-shaped
  • Fish in the Sea – fish-shaped.

Beamish 1900s town candy molds sweet rollers confectioners

 

A Lesson in British Coins

Naturally, in areas where people live, work and shop, there also will be a bank.  Beamish’s 1900s town is no exception.  This is where a kind and very patient gentleman took the time to explain Britain’s former monetary system to me.  Honestly, it was baffling.  Up until 1971, when the country adopted a decimal system (1 pound = 100 pence), they used a very different system.  Brace yourselves, because I’m going to attempt to explain it.  But first, a picture of the Beamish Bank:

beamish 1900s town bank

Prior to decimalization in 1971 Britain used a system of pounds, shillings and pence (‘£sd’ or ‘LSD’).  These L-S-D abbreviations came about because of the Roman influence in ancient Britain. A pound is represented by a stylized L because the standard Roman weight was called a libra.  Likewise, pennies were represented by a D, not P, because it stood for Denarius, a Roman coin.  The S for shilling actually stood for another Roman coin, the Soldius.

The smallest unit of currency was a penny, the plural of which was pence (or pennies). There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  As a result, that makes 240 pence in a pound.  But to further complicate matters, pennies also came in fractions:

1 farthing (the lowest value coin) = 1/4 penny.  Production of farthings ended after 1960 due to inflation.
A ha’penny (half penny) = 1/2 penny.  Production of ha’pennies ceased after 1969.

Multiple pence were called & coined as follows:

Threepence or Thruppenny Bit = 3 pence (pronounced “thruppence”)
Sixpence (also called a ‘tanner‘) = 6 pence
1 shilling = 12 pence (1s)

Like pennies, shillings were also called & coined in multiples:

1 florin (a beautiful silver coin) = 2 shillings
1 half-crown = 2 1/2 shillings.  Production of half-crowns ended in 1970.
1 crown = 5 shillings = 1/4 pound

The pound came in the form of a paper bill, called a note, or a gold coin, called a sovereign.

The Royal Mint stopped producing farthings after 1956 and withdrew them from circulation in 1960 due to inflation. In preparation for decimalization, they withdrew the ha’penny from circulation in 1969, followed by the half-crown the year after.

Made from copper, a penny could also be referred to as a copper.

Made of gold from the Guinea coast of Africa, a guinea (first issued on February 6th, 1663) equalled 21 shillings (or one pound and 1 shilling) in old British money. A guinea was widely considered to be a more gentlemanly amount than £1. A gentleman paid his tailor in shillings, but his barrister in guineas.

So to sum up, here is what would have been equal to a pound in the various types of coins:

960 farthings
480 ha’pennies
240 pence
80 threepence
40 sixpence
20 shillings
10 florins
8 half-crowns
4 crowns
1 sovereign

It seems like I would have needed a cheat sheet just to conduct simple transactions!  Thank goodness the only mental math I had to do was estimate how many dollars were equal to a pound!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. The museum opens daily at 10:00 AM except on holidays.  Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

Beamish, Part 5: The 1900s Town – the Printer

Beamish, Part 5: The 1900s Town – the Printer

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town

Hands down, the Beamish printer was my favorite stop in the 1900s Town.  Located on the second floor above the newspaper office and stationer’s shop, we very nearly overlooked it. I’m so glad we didn’t!

However, the printer on the second floor was not the printer of the newspaper.  This printer produced posters, address cards, bills, and invoices. The print shop consisted of two distinct areas.  The composition side of the operations focused on creating the material (layout and design).The machining side focused on printing the images onto paper.

The Beamish printer operated several nineteenth century printing presses.  The Columbian Press, a very large and ornate machine invented in the US in 1813 was the oldest and biggest.  It worked by a series of levers.

Beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history
The Columbian Press, built in 1837

An 1863 Albion Press, which was the English version of the Columbian Press, also stands in the Beamish print shop. The Albion became more popular than the Columbia because of its lighter weight, simple action, and strength of impression.

The Arab Platen Press, built around 1900, started off as foot operated but was later adapted to include an electric motor.  With the motor, it was capable of churning out 1000 copies per hour.  Finally, the Wharfdale Flat Bed Press came along around 1870. It was best suited for small runs of printed material.

The gentleman working in the print shop the day we were there took obvious pleasure in telling visitors about the workings of the 1900s print shop.  He was fascinating!  He told us that it was not easy work – often requiring very long hours and physically demanding tasks.  Apprentices to the trade would start working in the shop around age 14.  Once they had put in seven years of working five and a half days per week, their training was complete. However, printers received a good rate of pay in comparison to other working class jobs.  Most earned a fixed rate plus a small rate per piece.

Looking around the shop at the composition side, I saw so many papers and letters and drawers.  Part of me just wanted to sit down and spend an hour or two checking everything out.

Beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history

beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history

beamish printer 1900s town print shop living history
A poster for a Christmas event at Beamish.

We received a brief introduction to the presses in the shop and were told about what the work was like back then.  Afterwards, it got even more interesting as the Beamish printer described how so many English phrases derived from print shop lingo.  For instance:

  • Letter blocks were stored in cases. The capitals went in the upper cases and the non-capitals went in the cases below.  This is why we speak of uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • If you’ve ever been told to mind your Ps and Qs, you know you should pay special attention to your behavior.  Not only are the lowercase letters p and q very similar in appearance, they are also stored in close proximity to each other. Therefore, typesetters had to take special care to make sure they did not mix up the letters.
  • Bodies of type filled a wooden frame, where an object called a quoin held them in place.  When you set the type and locked the words in place, you had “coined a phrase.”
  • In the UK the phrase “not the full shilling” describes someone who is stupid or crazy.  This phrase is linked to William Caxton, who pioneered the printing press in Britain.  He cast type to the height of an English shilling, so anything under that was “not the full shilling.”
  • The first powered printing press was installed to print The [London] Times in 1814. Because of the speed with which it could print, other newspapers needed to “keep up with The Times.”

If you go to Beamish, make sure you don’t overlook the print shop.  It’s easy to miss, but I’m sure you will find that it’s one of the most fascinating places in the 1900s town!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays.   Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

 

Beamish, Part 4: The 1900s Town – Ravensworth Terrace

Beamish, Part 4: The 1900s Town – Ravensworth Terrace

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)

When we arrived at Beamish, we weren’t quite sure where to start, so we hopped on the first transport we saw and decided to disembark wherever it took us.  Have I mentioned the transportation at Beamish?  It’s authentic too!  Check out two of the vehicles we got to ride while we were there:

streetcar beamish ravensworth terrace 1900s town

Beamish ravensworth terrace 1900s town

And so it turned out that the first place the transport took us was the 1900s Town.  It was so magnificently done and there was so much to look at that I really wish we had saved it for last instead of heading there first.  I’m going to have to break this portion of our visit down into more than one blog post because I have so many wonderful pictures to share with you.

Today we’re looking at the residential portion of the town, Ravensworth Terrace.  The homes there are two-story attached row homes.  They were originally built in Gateshead for professional people and tradesmen between 1830 and 1845.  Due to be demolished in the 1970s, Beamish saved six of them, then had them dismantled and rebuilt as part of their 1900s town site.

ravensworth terrace row homes beamish 1900s town

The Dentist at Work

First, we visited Nos. 3 & 4 Ravensworth Terrace, the home (and office) of the town Dentist.  It was not at all uncommon in that era for dentists to operate their practice out of their homes.

A costumed young lady in the dentist’s office told us about the dental practices of the day.  Most of all, we were struck by the tradition of families paying to have all of their daughter’s teeth pulled at age 21 and dentures made to replace them.  This made the young lady a better “catch” as it would spare her future husband the expense of having to buy her dentures when she got older.  It seems barbaric, but this practice actually continued into the 1950s.

ravensworth terrace dentist 1900s town beamish
One of the old sets of dentures on display at the dentist’s office.

There were plenty of dental artifacts in there for us to look at… so many that at times I did not even know what I was looking at.

ravensworth terrace beamish dentist 1900s town
The technician’s room, used for preparation of dentures.

ravensworth terrace dentist beamish 1900s town

The dentist was also there, but he was content to sit while his assistant talked to us.

ravensworth terrace beamish dentist 1900s town
The Beamish dentist, chillin’ by the window.

(There was an issue that day with the wind blowing smoke from the fire back into the room, hence the fuzziness on  the left side of this picture.)

After a while, the dentist answered some questions for us as well.  Here you can see him standing behind some of the equipment.  The dental patient’s chair (amazingly similar to its 2016 counterpart) is to the left, behind a tray of tools.  The contraption on the right side of the picture is a gas apparatus for anesthesia (dentists used a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen).

dentist ravensworth terrace 1900s town beamish

The Dentist at Home

From there we moved on to the dentist’s home, which was right next door. Seems like the dentist was doing quite well for himself! His house had some very modern features for the time period. Most noteworthy was the bathroom.  An entire room dedicated to bathing and other personal matters!

bathroom dentist ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

Did you notice how PRETTY that toilet is?  My word!  I had to zoom in and get a better look.

beamish toilet ravensworth terrace 1900s town dentist home bathroom

Also, the fact that it flushed was quite a novelty then.

My favorite room in the dentist’s residence was the children’s room.  I loved seeing all the playthings.  It really looked lived in – as if they had just stepped out a moment before we arrived.

ravensworth terrace dentist home beamish 1900s town

ravensworth terrace dentist home tea party beamish 1900s town

ravensworth terrace dollhouse dentist home 1900s town

The Music Teacher

When we left the dentist’s place, we realized we had overlooked No. 2 Ravensworth Terrace, the home of the music teacher.  The teacher was an unmarried woman and, since her home was decorated in mid-Victorian furnishings, it seemed like she was a spinster who inherited the house from her parents. I only got this one photo:

music-teacher-house ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

The Solicitor

Finally, before concluding our tour of Ravensworth Terrace, we visited the solicitor’s office.  Due to all the shelves full of books, and the stacks of papers on the desk, this was my favorite room.  It felt like the lawyer had just stepped out and would return at any moment.

solicitor office ravensworth terrace beamish 1900s town

So, that’s a look at the homes of Ravensworth Terrace. Next, I’ll be writing about the 1900s town’s businesses.

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays.   Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.

 

Beamish, Part 3: The Colliery

Beamish, Part 3: The Colliery

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 

I confess, I had no idea what a colliery was, so I Googled it when we arrived at Beamish. Google informed me that a colliery consists of “a coal mine and the buildings and equipment associated with it.” How interesting!  I had never seen a coal mine before.

As previously mentioned in Part 2, coal mining was a big industry in northeastern England at the beginning of the 20th century. Coal mined in the Northumberland/Durham areas supplied about 1/4 of the country’s need. Peak production was in 1913, when over 165,000 men and boys worked in 304 Durham coal mines. It was not easy work, nor was it always safe. In 1913, more than 1000 miners died. One miner was killed or injured every five minutes.

We started off in the lamp cabin.  Each miner had a token bearing his number (also called a colliery check). He would hand the token to the manager and receive a safety lamp in exchange for it. The manager would then hang the token on a tally board, showing who was at work in the mine. In the event of a fire or explosion, the tokens served to inform rescue services of how many men were in the mine at the time.

colliery lamps coal mine beamish living history museum
The sign reads, in part, “Spitting in the lamp cabin is prohibited.”

The Beamish Colliery includes the Mahogany Drift coal mine, which originally opened in 1855.

beamish colliery mahogany drift coal mine entrance
Entrance to Mahogany Drift Mine

A drift coal mine is one that does not go straight down deep into the earth but rather runs underground at a slight angle and does not go very deep. We were actually allowed to enter the coal mine and see what it was like, but not without donning hard hats. Safety first!

colliery hard hat coal mine beamish living history museum

Once inside the coal mine, it did not take long to imagine what conditions must have been like for the miners. To say that there wasn’t much space would be an understatement. Miners often had to work laying on their backs or sides while chipping away at the coal seam. When our guide turned off the light in the area we visited, “dark” doesn’t quite seem adequate to describe it. There was NO light whatsoever, no reflections, not even a glimmer. Then there was the dampness. We splashed through little puddles on the way to the work site. Our guide told us that miners often had to lay in a few inches of water while they worked. Cold, cramped, dark and damp: these are not conditions in which I would want to spend hours at a time.

The Beamish Colliery was a great way to experience and learn what working conditions may have been like for working class men 100+ years ago. It was a very informative and educational visit.

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England. Telephone 0191 370 4000. Open daily at 10:00 AM except holidays. Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.